Getting to Machu Picchu with a Child

If money were no object, getting to Machu Picchu with a child would be a simple, straightforward event.

Pay your $120-$180 US dollars per person for your R/T Peru Rail ticket and board at Cusco for a 3.5 to 4 hour scenic train trip that takes you right into the heart of the small, tourist boom town of Agua Calientes.

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6 hours down, 11 km to go

From there, $12US (one way) shuttle busses running between 5am and 5.30pm usher you up, up and away on a 30 minute climb (to a little over 2400 meters) to the entrance of one of the globe’s most iconic and scenic tourist attractions. Factor in your 120-150 soles entrance fee (depending on how much ruin access and elevation you’d like to tackle during your visit), throw in a meal at one of the many thoroughly overpriced restaurants located near the entrance and maybe an enchanted night at the ruin’s mountain top lodging and chances are you’ll have left a hefty chunk of change to the local economy.

And, when all is said and done, barring a cruel act of God, you’ll still come away feeling as though you’ve come out way ahead. The Golden Egg Laying Goose of Peruvian tourism is simply that good.

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One foot in front of the other

But, of course, with seven and a half months under our belt and four and a half remaining, such a course of action was not an option. And with young children not allowed any of the many bucket list multi-day hikes to the site (The Inca Trail, Valle Lares Trek, Salkantay Trek and the Inca Jungle Trail to name but a few), these options were out as well.

What we needed was a cheaper, best of both worlds option. And, after plenty of asking around, we were pretty sure we’d found it in the form of a 65 sol (R/T), 6 hour, agency booked minibus bus from Cusco to the hydroelectric station past the towns of Santa Maria and Santa Theresa at the back of the Urubamba Valley. From there an 11 kilometer, scenic and mostly flat walk gets you to Agua Calientes.

In the end, I’m happy to say, this option ticked all the boxes. But that said, there are a few things to consider and factor in before setting out. Things such as:

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Step aside, passing through

Your nerves and your stomach. As in how strong are they both? Because the fact of the matter is, from the moment your minibus leaves the main highway at Santa Maria, an already extremely twisting and winding road becomes a dirt road along some of the most ass puckering guardrail-less roads you’re likely to encounter anywhere in South America. Roads that are shared with hellion taxi drivers and roads that drop off to depths whose free fall are sure to kill you long before the impact does. And even if you are lucky enough to score a driver that seems to fully grasp the precariousness their duty entails, getting a bus that has either a decent air conditioner and/or windows that actually open can be an uncomfortable issue to contend with. Especially if you’re prone to motion sickness.

Seriously consider staying in Agua Calientes for more than a single night. Not doing so will mean you’ll be in a big rush the following day. As in being virtually forced to have to get a ridiculously early start the next

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Early morning burn off

morning so as be back down for the return walk and mini bus rendezvous time of 230 pm. Definitely not a situation you’ll want to be in, especially if, as was the case with us, you find yourself arriving in to Agua Calientes a little past sunset wiped out after three hours of walking. It’s then that the extra night goes from being considered a luxury to an absolute necessity.

Remember a sturdy pair of walking shoes. Just because the train track side trail is relatively flat, the uneven, jagged nature of the railway stones can do a number on your feet and ankles. The same feet and ankles you’ll be relying on the following day to possibly climb Machu Picchu Mountain and Waynapicchu. You don’t necessarily need the brand new heavy duty boots which seem to be the norm in this part of southern Peru, but something more than the well-worn running shoes I was wearing would be wise.

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Final steps atop Machu Picchu Mountain

Bring insect repellent. No one mentioned this to us and we wished they had. Definitely bring some. Especially if, like us, you find yourself hiking in or even close to the shoulder of the rainy season which starts in October/November and runs to March.

Weigh the option of a sunrise arrival very carefully. We had very ambitious plans for a bus ride up, pre-sunrise arrival before our three hour rail side walk had us worn out and horizontal in our room that night seriously reconsidering the wisdom of such a crowd beating strategy. Having learned the hard way what an exhausted Kaia can do to the best of plans, we would end up nixing the idea opting instead for a leisurely breakfast and an 8am arrival. This would prove wise on two counts.

First, as we visited on the shoulder of the rainy season, our morning was greeted with what we heard was typical drizzle and socked in cloudy conditions. And two, our slightly later departure missed the bulk of the massive lines waiting to board for their ride up. This option makes more sense as, with many people only staying for a single night in town and having to leave the park in the vicinity of noon, a slightly later morning start gives you the mountain top ruins to yourself by mid to late afternoon.

Keep your kid on a short leash. Machu Picchu is many things but, like most of the continent,

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As pretty as any imagination can conjur

it’s definitely not child proof. Ledges and seriously lethal drop offs are everywhere. Even with seven months of conditioning Kaia to keep a tight grip on either of our hands at all times, there were still moments we found our best intentioned selves in suddenly precarious situations. A comfortable child carrier and a good dose of pre visit safety chats go a long way here.

Bring a blanket and pack a small picnic. Yes, you’ll read and hear where you’re not supposed to bring in outside food

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After a steady hour climb…worth every step

. But the truth is, it’s more about keeping litter in check and, as such, fear not, unless you’re walking in with a massive pack stuffed and overflowing with food items, no one is going to do a bag search. Which is a good thing, especially if, as was the case with us, one of you is determined to climb the lethally steep Machu

Picchu Mountain or Waynapicchu and you’re in need of killing some time in a grassy, shady spot.

Finally, seriously consider walking back down as opposed to another bus ride. Yes, the steep, 1.7 kilometer walk up to the entrance from town with a child on your back could easily be considered a fairly masochistic form of cruel and unusual punishment. Especially when there’s a fair bit of climbing awaiting you once inside the entrance.

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Our ‘butterfly’ in paradise

But that doesn’t mean going down has to be avoided at all cost. No, taken in conjunction with the walk in from the hydroelectric station, we considered the walk down back to our room in town as the perfect bookend moment. An opportunity to once again ingrain into Kaia the joy of moving under our own power…

All in the process of bringing an extraordinary end to an extraordinary day.

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